Mountain Ridge MS Theatre Teacher One of Eight to Receive National Award
HIGHLANDS RANCH -
Confidence can be hard to come by in middle school. “It was a struggle for me and I know it is for a lot of people. Just to know that you’re amazing,” explains Highlands Ranch High School Freshman Gracyn Trautmann. That’s part of the reason she is taking time to come back to middle school. She’s lending a hand at Mountain Ridge as a Production Assistant in their rendition of Bugsy Malone.
The other reason is the play’s director - Laurilea McDaniel. “I can’t put it in words how much she helps kids.” McDaniel loves the middle school crowd because it reminds her a bit of herself. “I was that kid!” she says laughing. “We as theater teachers hide the fact that we’re not always super confident human beings.” This likely would come as a surprise to her students. They describe her as a mentor, tough, no nonsense.
The truth is her confidence has grown over time. Her expectations are high because she has experienced big dreams in the world of theater. Last spring she was one of only eight teachers to be honored with the Freddie G award. The award came with a trip to New York for master classes taught by industry professionals. She also led a trip to Sacramento for the Junior Theater Festival with seven of her students. To top it off she was given a $5000 grant for the school’s theater program. She plans on using the money to build a technical theater learning lab with the help of her students.
She has taken the experience and brought it back to her students. “It’s given me the confidence I need to jump out and try things that maybe I was too scared to try in the past.” You’ll now find her jumping in to help out with choreography just as quickly as she will help the lighting and sound crew. The confidence is contagious. “I just started acting a couple years back and I never knew I could actually do a lead. Like this was a big step for me,” says 8th Grader Zane Zakroff - known here as Bugsy Malone.
The infusion of confidence has transformed the program into one of the best in the state. “We have the administrators that say ‘yes, try this.’ They empower us so we in turn get to empower our kids,” McDaniel says. The high school assistant Trautman agrees. “She teaches you valuable lessons about theater and just life in general that will help you throughout your entire life.”
As McDaniel oversees the energy coming off the stage and spilling into her classroom she takes a certain satisfaction. “If I can give confidence to kids at this age so that they don’t get to be 36 and have less confidence than they should have…it’s been a good day.”